Portrait of Tassisiak Tuki Loft and the return of The Four Amigos

A while back (a week ago from last Thursday?) I got together in my studio with three Facebook buddies for a play/paint date. Having secured the model, Tuki Loft of Kahnawake, my three guests arrived for the first of hopefully will be an ongoing thing.  Other painters have that kind of sharing camaraderie – Richard Schmid’s Putney Painters group, Palette and Chisel. What I know is that it’s an awful nice change from toiling in silence alone. There is something to be said for solitude but once in a while…so back to the group I have seemed to have dubbed The Four Amigos. The last time we got together for a roughly 5 hour session with our model. As can be seen from the images posted last week on the blog my buddies are formidable artists. Of the four I was the least successful in my attempt to paint Tuki. After mulling it over I decided to get Tuki back for a quick photo shoot so I could rework the image. Basically I sanded down the original brush drawing I started that day. The drawing in of the shirt can still be seen.

Eric Mannella and I got together last week for the afternoon in my studio and we decided we would like to have a second sitting with Tuki. We also decided to see if the other guys Steven Rosati and Eduardo S. Fernandes wanted to join us. All being favorable we are set to pick up where we left off.  Those fellows are ready. I need to play catch up so I got a jumps start laying in my color. While it is a bit of a cheat, having re-worked my portrait working from a photograph I am unrepentant.


While I made significant headway into the painting there is much to do later this morning (it’s now 2:34 a.m. my time). We will be starting at 10a.m. or thereabout. Hopefully I won’t be too out of it. I will need to restate the darks and work on the muzzle of the portrait but overall I am feeling pretty good about where I am. Here’s a close-up.


I will post the outcome of today’s session later in the day or perhaps tomorrow. Thanks for looking, see you soon and have a great day! Onen ki Wahi (Until next we meet)

Selfie the hard way

A while back I posted the start of this self-portrait and between projects I have been returning and returning to the drawing to refine it as best I can. I was strongly motivated to get it as accurate as possible before painting. Doing a self-portrait from life is a far greater challenge than doing it from a photograph and harder than doing a portrait of another person. It is cheaper than paying a model  and that’s the big plus. I have gotten advice from my friend Eric Manella an excellent painter and teacher from Montreal (See Four Amigos post for more about Eric and his Atelier de Bresoles). 

I am feeling I am getting to the point where I will begin the painting process now for this old-school selfie. Stay tuned. Meantime the Four Amigos (maybe 3 of the 4) will be gathering again on Tuesday coming for another session with our model Tuki Loft. I will post our progress when we are done for the day. Thanks for looking!



An Interlude: Paint Date with the Four Amigos


Left-Right: Eric Mannella, Eduardo Fernandes, Steven Rosati and myself. Rapid Water Gallery Studio.

Last week I had the pleasure of painting in my studio with a group of Montreal area artists whose work I admire greatly. This get together came about via the magic of the social network, namely Facebook. Eric for sometime had been inviting me to come to his home base of Atelier de Bresoles in Montreal’s Old Port or suggesting he might get together with me in Kahnawake at my studio. This had been going on for maybe two years or more. Frankly I think so highly of him I was intimidated. Though I am loathe to admit it, I must. Still, Eric’s persistence paid off and I relented. I just couldn’t dodge him again. No telling when an invitation would be forthcoming again. And so it was that last Thursday, the deal struck, the model engaged ( Mr. Tassisiak Tuki Loft of Kahnawake) the first of what I hope will be many painting dates took place. I seem to have dubbed our group The Four Amigos.

Initially, I thought it would only be me and Eric getting together but then he asked if I’d mind if one of his students accompanied him. No problem. Then he said that one of his friends, Steven Rosati wanted in. I had been a follower of Steven’s amazing portrait and figurative work for some time and both he, Eric and I had been Facebook buddies for some time. Image

Tassisiak Tuki Loft posing in 18th century ruffled shirt, shell gorget and porcupine quilled knife. In the foreground is Steven Rosati’s drawing which he was soon to paint. Off to the right I am muddling along and getting nowhere fast. I at least look the part. Actually had I not been so nervous about being in the room with this talented group of guys I would have done better to have begun my own attempt as Steven did. No matter, there was much to share and learn. Eric is a consummate painter and teacher and along with his wife Alana Benham run one of the best atelier schools in the country. Both are graduates of the New York Academy of Art in NYC.Image

Eric deftly working his brush and paint in a wonderful demonstration of alla prima painting. Note how he places his colors directly on his panel. Mixing his colors directly on his panel allows Eric to  see his color in the same light as the painting without the stress of constantly bending over to a flat palette. Definitely a tip I will take to heart. Also worthy of noting, Eric, a recent father, works solvent-free using only linseed oil to thin his colors. He began by accessing the shadow and light patterns and mapping these out in umber thinned to the consistency of ink. At this stage of his portrait of Tuki, Eric had begun laying in his color notes.


Eric’s completed portrait of our model Tuki Loft. Eric explained to me that he lays in a bit of background color around the head first then beginning the flesh tones he places a mosaic of colored strokes which he will build up while avoiding the temptation of ‘blending’ and thereby muddying his colors.


In this close-up you can see the web of colored strokes making up Eric’s flesh tones. What this photo cannot adequately show is how the paint surface sparkles. Quite remarkable really.


To Eric’s left is his student Eduardo Simoes Fernandes, an incredibly gifted artist who has been studying at Atelier de Bresoles (http://www.atelierdebresoles.com/ ) for the past year or two. Eduardo chose to forgo paint for graphite with his portrait of Tuki.


Eduardo’s drawing skills are well honed. In the 5 hours available Eduardo produced a drawing with a high degree of finish. This is a testament to both the student and his teacher. A native of Brazil, Eduardo emigrated to Canada where he has been working in the burgeoning field of computer gaming graphics. His first real study of traditional drawing and painting has taken place at Eric and Alana’s atelier.


Eduardo’s finished portrait of TassisiakTuki Loft.


For award winning portrait and figurative painter Steven Rosati of Montreal, this drawing would have stood him well as a finished drawing but it was only a step along the way. Steven’s method for this piece was to paint the features in what some would call ‘window shade’ fashion. To witness it unfold was to watch a magic happen.


Steven began with the eyes of Tuki’s portrait then work his way down subtly modelling and turning the form.


This was the result of Steven’s efforts for the day. Steven’s painting surface was an oil primed linen panel – Claessens #13 portrait grade. He uses water miscible oil colors. Image

As for my own efforts, I can say that I struggled and my own results that day were not what I would consider on par with that of my friends. That is not to say my day was a waste or a write-off. For whatever reason I found myself floundering in my drawing with the brush…basically choking. Nevertheless, I am not so foolish as to not take advantage of Eric’s teaching ability. Eric was more than willing. In the end I decided to sand down the paint from my canvas to begin the portrait anew having engaged Tuki to come in for a quick photo shoot over the weekend. He will come in to sit for me again so that I can paint from life getting the color. Niawen kowa/ Thanks very much for your interest.








Time for Self-Reflection


It has been said that art mirrors life. It has also been said that honest self-reflection is good for both the psyche and the soul. I would argue against neither of those sentiments. I paint people. I am fascinated with people’s faces yet far too often I have felt the need to rely on photography as a tool but I would prefer painting from life. What to do when there are no models on hand clamoring to climb up onto the model’s stand? Self-reflection. Fact is I work cheap, plus I am available. I don’t know about anyone else but I find doing a self portrait is  a greater challenge than drawing or painting someone else, if for no other reason than the technical challenge of having to move back and forth between the mirror and the canvas. So very many things can run afoul of reality. Then there’s the plain fact that none of us knows how other humans ‘see’ us and all that most of us ever see of ourselves is the apparition in the mirror. “Is that how you see yourself” is a common enough reaction from others simply either because they will never really see others as others see themselves…or the self-portrait is a mess.  So doing a self portrait is a valuable exercise.

Psychologically and philosophically one may move through some interesting excursions on the road to painterly self actualization. I have done a number of self-portraits in my time, some good, others laughable. I once did a challenge on one of the art forums to do a drawing  a day. I chose to do a portrait a day. It was a January so I ended up doing 30 odd self-portraits in as many days culminating in two successive alla prima self-portraits.

A couple of days ago my friend Eric Manella, a wonderful Montreal based realist painter, posted the start of a self-portrait in oil. That and the fact that he in-boxed me an invitation to get together for a painters play date inspired me to begin a self-portrait of my own. I have a lovely little studio with a less than dead on north light skylight….let’s call it ‘north-ish’ light. I was feeling kind of tentative and so began by noodling around with doing my block-in in charcoal, not something I usually do. More often I would begin by doing the block in with brush and paint. The canvas is an oil-primed Russian linen I purchased online a while back which I had toned a neutral gray. Size is 16″x20″. Image

I am mainly interested in getting the big shapes correct at this point…light shapes vs. shadow shapes and working from general to specific I am probably not going to spend an inordinate amount of time on the drapery of the shirt because, while I will wear the same shirts throughout the painting process…the folds will likely move about. Since I don’t want to chase folds around every time I return to the canvas, I will wait to lock the drapery in at a time later than my ‘mug.’ A note about working in charcoal: it is easily mover around so therefore more easily corrected. I use my fingers, a kneaded eraser or a brush, even the flick of a chamois will work.

Thanks for stopping by to read. KRM


Painting ‘Speaker of Truth’

I had intended to present an abbreviated view of the process I used to paint ‘Speaker of Truth’ in my previous post. Then My thoughts took me elsewhere. So I thought I would revisit my original intention in this post. ‘Speaker of Truth’ was painted on a 10″x16″ Belgian portrait linen canvas which I triple primed with Rublev white lead ground. After transferring my drawing I executed the under-painting in raw umber. This basic division of labor in oil painting where one deals with drawing and the establishment of the values:


As an artist I find that I am always looking to learn from others and to try different palettes for flesh painting.  I have used full palettes of up to fifteen or more colors. I would say these lean toward being open palettes. In this case I decided to explore a limited. lower chroma palette and to utilize value strings. For most of the painting I used a limited value string palette I discovered online on the blog of James Raczkowski. Here is the link to Raczkowski’s entry. I found that while it does take time to premix this kind of palette, Raczkowski’s explanation to be concise and easy to follow. Anyone who has ever tried Daniel Greene’s or Frank Covino’s controlled palette approach with be in familiar territory.



I started with the hand and background in the first pass given I had fresh value strings of flesh tones. It is surprising how effective your flesh tones can be made to appear with relatively low chroma colors. One really doesn’t need bright cadmium colors to achieve convincing flesh tones. In Raczkowski’s color recipe he used cadmium red, which I substituted with Genuine Chinese Vermillion by Michael Harding. which I related to the Zorn flesh  palette.


Moving toward the final stages I over-painted the eagle feather as well as refined both the flesh and background tones. I introduced touches of king’s blue and violet gray in the upper portions. My intuition suggested the introduction of these bluish grays to imply that the journey toward the healing of spirit is a marriage of earth and sky/heavens…being grounded in the spirit. Niawen kowa/Much thanks for looking. You can see the complete painting in the previous entry and on my portfolio page. Thanks go out to James Raczkowski for sharing his knowledge and thereby being a part of this painting though he did not know he had. The blogosphere can be a wonderful place.



On Healing and Reconciliation – The Speaker of Truth


A few years back, the prime minister of Canada Stephen Harper issued a formal statement of apology on behalf of Canada for the Indian residential school system and the devastation wrought against the children who were forced to attend those schools and to the damage inflicted upon families, communities, nations. Among these was the destruction of family ties, culture and language. Many people, Native people who’d lived their lives as survivors, many who had been physically and sexually abused or lost brothers and sisters to tuberculosis infested schools (yes there is documentation of this) hoped for this long sought after apology. Many of these people felt that, while it might have come too late for them personally, conditions would improve, that measurable and concrete amends would be enacted. Instead what many experienced most was a sense of betrayal at what they saw was a government behaving and acting legislatively in a manner quite opposite and false to the words uttered by Harper.

When I started this painting, the Truth and Reconciliation hearings were getting under way across Canada. Prerequisite to receiving the ‘apology’, the Harper government insisted that there be no more lawsuits commence on behalf of victims of the residential schools, no more criminal charges brought forward. Instead they would get the Truth and Reconciliation hearings.  In addition many astute observers notice that Harper never apologized for the government….he apologized for the abuses of the churches that ran the schools at the behest of Canada’s Indian department and government.

What inspired me to paint this picture was the thought of how many, many Native people had long before the (false) apology begun a process of healing which included rejecting shame for the cultures of their ancestors instilled by the genocidal residential school system. One expression of that was the formation of healing circles in which speakers would share openly with others the sufferings they had endured. The speaker holding an eagle feather is accorded the open ears of the fellow participants, who listen with unconditional empathy and the assumption that he or she who holds the feather is speaking honestly from the heart.  I also thought of the courage of the many survivors who gathered in cities and towns to share their stories.

The hand in the picture is my own as is the feather…so in a way, it is a self-portrait…not that I had ever attended a residential school but that I nonetheless have lived and experienced the fallout of that era as have my children and grand children. My longing for healing is for those loved ones. My hope for healing is not based on what Harper’s government continues to do to decimate our rights as nations. It’s not based upon what Harper’s government paternalistically claims it is doing for our own good. It is based upon my own refusal to allow my grandchildren to live their lives as victims and the understanding that any true healing and reconciliation does not stem from legalistic maneuvering but from the power of what we in Mohawk country refer to as the power of the good mind.

Post Scripts, Self-Edits and Apologies…

It is funny and, then again, not so funny perhaps when one realizes one might have been caught up in the moment and misspoke. Case in point, I would add a note in postscript to the video I posted previously.. In it I am recorded making a statement to the effect that there hasn’t been a place to exhibit art in Kahnawake. That statement constitutes an error of omission. What I meant to say was that in Kahnawake there has not been, at least not in recent memory, a  commercial gallery space dedicated to the  exhibition of Native artists work. The reality is that the Kanien’kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center of Kahnawake has for many years provided exhibition space for Native artists among the many cultural endeavors it pursues, language preservation, programming and curriculum development being prime examples. The KRCC had and continues to provide a space for the exhibition of artist at all levels and has more than generously hosted vernnisages and promoted these exhibitions, owing to the tireless work of Martin Loft of the KRCC in no small part. Indeed Martin, an artist himself in photography, printmaking and jewelry, has been a champion of this aspect of the KRCC’s mandate. It is important to me as an artist and as a human being to be quick to correct one’s own missteps as soon as one realizes the error of one’s ways.

To this I submit the following link to let the KRCC ‘speak for itself as to it’s endeavors: http://www.lily-of-the-mohawks.com/cultcenter.htme

What do I really think about everything?

Everything is a lot of stuff so perhaps it would have been more realistic of me to pose another question. What do I really think about art, for instance?  “What do I really think about the act of painting?” would be another along with “Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say about anything, let alone everything? My briefest answer would be ‘connection.’ Let’s get connected. Let’s begin. It has been said that a picture tells a 1000 words …that being the case, what about a video?